Want to be super-healthy? Then get your blood flowing naturally. Proper circulation provides nutrients and oxygen to all the organs and tissues, keeps them functioning properly, and helps with the removal of waste from tissues. But if circulation is off, problems can follow. “Poor blood circulation can result in suboptimal repair of tissues, due to decreases in nutrient and oxygen availability,” says Kate Denniston, ND, a licensed naturopathic doctor at Los Angeles Integrative Health clinic. “In the worst cases, this can result in cellular damage to nerves, blood vessels, skin and other organs.” In other words, blood circulation is very important.
A variety of things can affect blood circulation: blood vessel health, blood pressure, thyroid function, hydration, heart health, exercise, and blood viscosity. (More on this in a moment.) Dr. Denniston notes that signs of poor blood circulation can include leg pain after walking, cold hands and feet, white fingertips, varicose veins, slow wound healing, numbness, tingling, blue lips, and fatigue. If you experience any of these signs and symptoms, keep reading for doctor-approved tips on how to improve blood circulation naturally.
How to improve blood circulation naturally
Understand the why
Before making any lifestyle changes to improve blood circulation naturally, it's important to identify the underlying cause of sluggish flow. The circulatory system, which controls blood flow function, has three main components: arteries, veins, and the lymphatic system. "If any of these components have a disturbance, the result will be poor blood circulation,” says Alissa Brotman O’Neill, DO, a double board-certified vascular surgeon at Vein Specialist Centers. The first step is distinguishing which one is affected, which means you should pay your primary care doctor a visit to determine the best course of action.
Move your body
The fastest way to improve blood circulation is (surprise!) to exercise. You'll get that blood moving right away, plus you'll help maintain vascular health over the long term. “Exercise enables the venous valves to pump blood upward back towards the heart and keep circulation moving,” Dr. Denniston says. “It also promotes the growth of new blood vessel formation when current blood vessels have blockages from plaque build up.” The exercise doesn’t have to be intense, either. Even just taking a walk will help.
Eat colorful produce
A diet filled with plenty of color can help circulation, thanks to flavonoids—a group of phytonutrients responsible for giving plants their vivid colors. Mores specifically, try to eat anthocyanins, an antioxidant-rich group of flavonoids that help protect the lining of blood vessels. “Eating flavonoid-rich foods like fruits, vegetables, and spices strengthens the integrity of the blood vessel walls and quells inflammation that can compromise the blood vessel lining,” Dr. Denniston says.
Furthermore, she adds, “foods like pomegranate seeds and beets increase a compound in the blood called nitric oxide, which dilates blood vessels to allow more blood flow,” Dr. Denniston says. “Nitric oxide in these foods also helps keep the blood vessel walls healthy and smooth.” Stock your Instacart with foods such as berries, purple cabbage, and purple sweet potato.
Wear compression stockings
If one of your symptoms of poor blood circulation is varicose veins, Dr. Brotman O’Neill recommends wearing compression stockings. However, if you don’t see an improvement by wearing them, consult your physician.
The more you stand, the less blood flows. “Standing for long periods of time causes blood pooling in the lower legs, which adds pressure to leg veins and compromises their structural integrity,” Dr. Denniston says. “Walking enables the venous valves to pump blood upward back towards the heart and keep circulation moving.” Same goes with sitting for too long. Try doing some leg exercises to get the blood flowing again.
Consider herbs and supplements
Herbs and spices have been used for hundreds of years to improve blood flow, but be sure to check with your doctor first to address any underlying causes. Dr. Denniston recommends herbs such as gotu kola, ginkgo biloba, and prickly ash as well as spices like ginger, cayenne, and rosemary which can be used in food or tea. For varicose veins specifically, she suggests herbs like horse chestnut and butcher’s broom.
If you're open to supplementing your diet, Dr. Denniston recommends cayenne and ginkgo biloba—both circulatory stimulants. “Cayenne helps stimulate blood flow and ginkgo biloba improves circulation by dilating blood vessels, allowing more blood to move through them,” Dr. Denniston says. Another one to think about? Hawthorn berry, since it helps normalize blood pressure and cardiac function, prevents the formation of plaque build up in the arteries, and improves blood vessel integrity.
Know when it's time to see a doctor
Although there are ways you can improve blood circulation naturally, signs it's time to see a doctor include painful varicosities, edema (aka swelling), leg pain while walking, and leg wounds. Chest pain? Get yourself to the ER, stat. Dr. Brotman O’Neill says untreated vascular disease can come with serious side effects such as heart attack, stroke, and limb ischemia (or severe blockage of the arteries). So get that blood flowing, friends. Your body will thank you.
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